[b-hebrew] Using an unpointed text

Yigal Levin leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il
Fri Aug 24 03:50:39 EDT 2007


Dear James et al.

The post below emphasizes why insisting on teaching the text without the 
Masoretic points is so problematic. Any native speaker of a language grows 
up learning his language's grammar "naturally" - it is only the non-native 
speaker who must actually "learn" the rules. Compare the way in which an 
American high-schooler "knows" English, with the way in which a European 
teenager learns it - the European will know much more English grammar; the 
American will just speak it, usually correctly.



Speakers of Hebrew in the Iron Age and in the Second Temple Period did not 
need the nikkud - the nuances of their language came "naturally". And while 
it is true that by the time of the Masoretes nobody had been a "native" 
speaker of Biblical Hebrew for a thousand years (well, let's not argue about 
the dates), there was an unbroken tradition of how to read the text and what 
it meant. Now "unbroken" does not mean that the Masoretes pronounced every 
word exactly as Isaiah would have, and of course there are mistakes and 
corruptions in the Masoretic tradition, but it does mean that they had a 
whole lot of knowledge, which our just throwing out the window would be 
foolish.



In a way, the Masoretes represent the transition from those who could read 
the Bible as "natives" (not in the sense that they spoke Hebrew on the 
street, but that they did learn the text and its pronunciation as children), 
and those who needed aids to guide their learning. The Masoretes provided 
those aids. I'm sure that they can be improved upon - but assuming that we 
know better and throwing them out seems nonsensical.

Yigal Levin

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "JAMES CHRISTIAN READ" <JCR128 at student.anglia.ac.uk>
To: <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Friday, August 24, 2007 9:50 AM
Subject: [b-hebrew] Beginners unpointed text reading course


> KWR: Getting back to teaching unpointed Biblical Hebrew, the biggest
> challenge that I can see is in teaching students to recognize the
> different binyanim. In teaching Masoretic Hebrew, we can say "This set
> of points define a Qal, and this other set a Piel" and so forth, but
> without the points, the difference between the Qal, Piel, even many
> Hiphils, Hophals, Niphals, etc. will have to be recognized by their
> function in context as their consonantal forms are often identical.
> Have you given any thought to this question? How would one teach to
> recognize those functions? Have you given any thought to teaching
> students to recognize functions?
>
> JCR: If we are to make the assumption that the aim of
> the course is to bring the student to an instinctive
> reading of the text similar to that of a native Hebrew
> then I would make the following observation.
>
> The level of analysis of the Hebrew verb system we
> refer to as the Qal, Hiphil etc. is the invention of
> medieval Hebrew grammarians and while useful for a
> high level analysis of the language provides little use
> for understanding the text. I would suggest that your
> average native Hebrew had little more than a passive
> understanding of these forms and was more concerned
> with the meaning of words in context than in their
> actual form and in the grammatical conventions used
> (none used at that time to the best of my knowledge) to
> describe them.
>
> I would therefore treat these consonants as any other
> combination of consonants which have multiple possible
> pronunciations. I would leave the context to dictate
> the correct pronunciation and therefore the meaning.
> This is why I feel that my n-grams are such useful
> units of teaching. They are ready made natural lexical
> chunks that can already provide enough collational
> evidence to make the decision.
>
> Regards the use of images as a learning aid. I guess
> the thing I really liked about the book is the fact
> that it is language independent. Anybody of any nation
> could pick that book up and learn basic Hebrew
> vocabulary and phrases independently of their mother
> tongue.
>
> Another thing I like about it is the fact that it
> represents the natural way of learning language -
> associating words with objects/situations. The main
> problem with second language learning is that in the
> process of associating target language labels with
> first language labels the student is running the risk
> of falling into traps of assuming that there is a
> 100% 1:1 mapping of concepts. Another problem with this
> method of learning is that it inhibits the student's
> ability to start thinking in the target language
> because instead of going from:
>
> cognitive understanding -> audible label
>
> they go from:
>
> cognitive understanding -> audible label in first language -> audible 
> label in target language
>
> and so are taught from the very outset to translate
> mentally rather than to understand directly.
>
> Another point in favour of the use of images is the
> psychological research that different learners learn
> in different ways. Modern English courses are based on
> this philosophy and generally present a good mix of
> images, texts, audio samples to take advantage of the
> whole array of learning mechanisms.
>
> Perhaps, a mix of images and first language equivalents
> would be the best way forward. What do you think?
>
> Anyway, I forgot to mention pronunciation. Perhaps the
> first chapter should be dedicated to syllable
> pronunciation. Traditional grammar tend to deal with
> pronunciation on a per letter basis but I feel that
> this betrays the natural mechanisms of phonetic
> training. In every language I know of natural phonetic
> training consists of phonetic training at the syllable
> level. Perhaps our course should also follow this
> tried and tested model.
>
> Any thoughts? Feelings?
>
> James Christian Read - BSc Computer Science
> http://www.lamie.org/hebrew - thesis1: concept driven machine translation 
> using the Aleppo codex
> http://www.lamie.org/lad-sim.doc - thesis2: language acquisition 
> simulation
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> ys the natural mechanisms of phonetic
> training. In every language I know of na
>
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